THE VERSATILES / LOVE GENERATION – WARRICKA HILL

A: The Love Generation – Warricka Hill

 

B: 3rd & 4th Generation – Battlefield

 

After forming in 1967 the Versatiles joined Joe Gibbs’ Amalgamated roster of artists and released a single called ‘Just can’t win’, which was only the third release by the fresh new label. If ever a name for a group was spot on, it was so in the case of this trio. Comprised of three members – Keith Byles, Louis Davis and Earl Dudley –  the group indeed recorded a very diverse set of songs in their time.  The Versatiles’ catalogue consists of sweet rocksteady, fast paced reggae and deep, early roots tunes while their topics range from raunchy slackness to festival sing-a-longs and social commentary about the state of affairs in Kingston in the early seventies, sung over nyabhinghi based riddims.

Despite their relative succes, money wasn’t coming in. Keith Byles took a job as a firefighter and then left the group in 1970 to rejoin forces with Lee Perry, with whom the Versatiles had recorded their first recordings for Gibbs. Lee Perry and Junior Byles had a strong vibe, so when Keith went solo – first as King Chubby,  later on as Junior Byles –  it made sense he went straight to Perry to arrange and record new songs. Needless to say, this partnership turned out very successful. Louis Davis and Earl Dudley went on to record as the Versatiles after Byles’ departure and recorded for Niney/Gibbs, Laurel Aitken and Willie Williams, among others, with various results. But Junior may have left the group, he didn’t leave them behind. In fact, most of his output for Perry features the vocal harmonies of Louis and Earl. And every now and then he still recorded with the group as their lead singer.

Warricka Hill is one of those songs (to my ears, anyway). Released in 1973, with Junior at the heights of his career, the song laments the brutal force issued by the army to destroy a place of peace. To prevent serving as a hideout for criminals or as a stash house for marijuana  – and probably also to try and subjugate the rasta’s, whom they frowned upon for living live by a different set of rules – the Jamaican government time and again ordered raids on the rastaman camps to sweep them clean. These raids were executed from as early as the 1930’s and the results were often dramatic. As Junior sings: “Warricka Hill, turn battlefield. The helicopter, coming with the army. This is the captain, [..]   Anyone inside there, drop your gun and go home. And you will get no hurt.” The latter was sadly not often the case. When the battle began, violence would reign supreme. Rastamen were beaten, locks were trimmed and shots would be fired; especially since notorious badmen and posses, like Dennis ‘Copper’ Barth and his Hot Steppers gang, were indeed hiding in the hills and camps (sometimes dreadlocked in order to blend in) and weren’t about to surrender without a fight. Heavily armed these battles would cause casualties on both sides.

The violence, it seems, was increasing over time. With the rastafari movement growing bigger and more influential since its inception, it drew more attention. And with that, it not only drew bad characters towards their camps, but also bad faith. Junior Byles sings about army helicopters hovering over the camps. This  was an eerie clairvoyance of the near future, as soon the choppers would be a regular sight. In 1974 prime minister Michael Manley joined president Nixon in his ‘War on drugs’, which lead to the launch Operation Buccaneer – a drugs eradication program that was executed by the Jamaica Defense Force  and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, who regularly took aerial surveys to spot the cultivation of marijuana.  When they found a field, they’d send in a squad of men to destroy the crop and impound all equipment. Operation Buccaneer took place into the early 2000’s  but proved unsuccesful as the cultivation of weed simply shifted towards neighbouring countries.

The Love Generation, as the Versatiles were called on both its Jamaican as English release, already lost the good fight well before that. Junior Byles went to Bellevue Hospital after the dead of Haile Selassi – emerging every now and then to record a few songs –  and Louis Davids left the Versatiles to join the Morwells.

 

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Label: Jogibs (Ja) / Grape / Trojan (uk)
Release date: 1973
Riddim: Warricka Hill
Matrix: DSR JG 5076 / DSR JG 5077

Posted: 14-10-2015

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